Individuals and Small Businesses Get Some Help from the USPTO – the Patent Pro Bono Program

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Image from the Patent Pro Bono Launch at the Burlington Generator in Vermont (left to right): Jim Grace, US Senator Patrick Leahey (VT), Justin Daniels of Proskauer Rose LLP, and Jennifer McDowell, the USPTO’s Pro Bono Coordinator

Image from the Patent Pro Bono Program Launch at the Burlington Generator (Patrick Leahy second from left).

When it comes to turning a great idea into a viable business, one of the most significant hurdles for many inventors is the cost of applying for a patent.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has recognized this impediment and has, with the urging of Senator Patrick Leahy, launched the USPTO Pro Bono Program (the “Program”), which is available to all inventors and small businesses with limited resources.

Established with the enactment of the America Invents Act, the Program aims to match inventors with volunteer patent attorneys who can assist them with their patent applications on a pro bono basis. In general, the Program is open to individuals and small businesses who meet the resource eligibility requirements.  The Program is managed regionally, with Vermont being a part of the Patent Pro Bono Program of New England.  To be eligible, individual inventors must have an adjusted gross income of less than 300% of the federal poverty guidelines (as of this writing, 300% of the poverty guidelines is $35,640 for an individual and $72,900 for a household of four, as examples) and small businesses must have a total gross income of less than $150,000.  In addition, any inventor seeking assistance under this program must have progressed in the development of his or her invention enough to be able to describe in sufficient detail to allow someone to make it.

Inventors wishing to take advantage of the Program must first apply through the appropriate regional program (the New England Program is available here: http://artsandbusinesscouncil.org/patent-pro-bono-program/), pay a small fee ($55 as of this writing), provide some documents to establish eligibility, and complete a training module to help them become more familiar with the patent process.  Keep in mind that further fees will be due as patent office fees, which can range from several hundred dollars to well over a thousand, must be paid by the inventor.

Pro bono services for patent work is a relatively new area, but has seen rapid growth since an initial pilot program in Minnesota in 2011.  However, since the volunteer patent attorneys are not obligated to accept every eligible inventor in the program, it remains to be seen whether there will be enough attorneys, or, more precisely, enough attorney time, to meet the demand for pro bono patent services as more inventors with limited resources become aware of the program.

Dunkiel Saunders is excited to be a part of the Program so as to assist Vermonters and those throughout New England in pursuing patents to their inventions.  The practice at Dunkiel Saunders is dedicated to serving all inventors and has a special emphasis on those focusing on alternative energy, education, health care, and other inventions that advance social and environmental causes.

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